Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite recipes of 2014

Tomorrow is 2015. Crazy right? Right! For me, 2014 was a good year but I plan on making 2015 a spectacular year. I think we get to make those choices. Attitude is everything.

My 2014 highlights? Celebrating one year of marriage with my most favorite person (yes, this is Blake) in magical Crested Butte. Spending one week wandering in the Grand Tetons. Getting lost in a maze of needles in Canyonlands National Park and within Canyonlands hiking to what now makes my top 5 list of most sacred stunning places, Druid Arch. We also had our fair share of great meals. 2014 seemed to be the year of really awesome pizza and if I have my way, 2015 will be too.

I cooked a lot in 2014. Possibly more than I ever have before. I feel I have grown leaps and bounds as a cook and baker in the last year. Below you will find my favorites.

Carrot cake power muffin-my absolute favorite muffin
Lemon yogurt bread-this bread is just wonderful
Irish soda bread-make this in March or tomorrow, so good
Maple sweet potato oat muffins-maple and sweet potato are my favorite things
Breaded lemon cream cheese bread-for special occasions this bread is a win

Buffalo chili cheese fries- I will eat these at every Super Bowl until the end of time

Korean Bulgogi grilled flatiron steak with bok chi-Sweet, spicy, smoky
Jalapeno pretzel dogs with beer cheese dipping sauce-If left in charge, I would eat these weekly
Baked hot chicken sandwich with spicy bourbon sauce-A southern dream
Chicken souvlaki with tzatziki sauce-light, zingy, wonderful
My all time favorite penne with meat sauce-the greatest comfort food
Loaded pulled pork chili fries with chipotle beer queso- fries, queso, pulled pork, and guac is all I need
Roasted sweet potato and onion sandwich with avocado and sriracha mayo-a go to in our house

Oatmeal applesauce snack cake-oh so satisfying and almost healthy
Brown butter cadbury egg blondie-always a hit
Muddy buddy crispy treat-muddy buddies and crispy treats? Be still my heart
Peppermint pattie cookies-my favorite dessert made this year

Friday, December 26, 2014

Pork sandwich with onion marmalade, blue cheese spread, and avocado

I'm sitting on the couch in a robe. It snowed 10 inches overnight. I'm wondering how long I can delay going to work. If I do go to work, I'm wondering if at the very least I can wear the robe. I'm calling this the holiday hangover. Not in the I consumed one too many glasses of wine sense but in the sense that I spent the last few days eating cookies and relaxing on the couch and eating more cookies. My body needs time to adapt. Alas all good things must come to end. 

The other thing I want is a relatively easy meal. I have cooked a lot this holiday season. This sandwich is a beauty. The blue cheese spread is cream cheese and blue cheese whipped together. Nothing wrong with that. So simple. So delicious. That richness with the brightness of the red onion marmalade is a beautiful thing. I would eat this sandwich again and again. 

Pork sandwich with onion marmalade, blue cheese spread, and avocado
Serves 4, blue cheese spread adapted from Not Without Salt 

1 pound boneless pork chops
3 cups water
1/4 cup salt
1 bay leaf 
1 teaspoon peppercorns (optional)
3/4 cup blue cheese, softened 
3 ounces cream cheese, softened 
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 avocado, sliced
Arugula for serving 
1 large baguette, cut in quarters and each quarter sliced lengthwise  in half

Red onion marmalade 
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 red onions thinly sliced
1 garlic clove minced
1/3  cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry fruity red wine (I used a Bordeaux, zinfandel would work great as well)

In a large bowl or tupperware, mix water, salt, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Add pork to the brine (water/salt solution) and let brine for 30 minutes. 

While pork is brining, mix together blue cheese and cream cheese with a spatula. Set aside.

Now prepare your red onion marmalade. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter until butter has melted. Add onion, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper and stir. Reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally, until onions have softened, about 15 minutes. Add vinegar and wine and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about ten minutes. Remove from heat. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, paprika, mustard powder, and brown sugar. Remove pork chops from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub the pork chops with the spice rub you just made on both sides. 

In a medium oven safe saute pan over high heat, brown the pork on both sides, 5-6 minutes a side. Put the pan in the oven and bake 20-25 minutes until the pork is just cooked through. Let pork rest for 5 minutes. Slice lengthwise into 1/2" strips. 

Assemble your sandwich. Spread a generous layer of blue cheese bread on one side of the baguette. Layer pork, avocado, onion marmalade, and arugula on the baguette and enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2014

French onion braised chicken

Remember in college and high school when the holiday break meant at least two weeks of freedom? That's when the holidays were really fun. Two weeks of waking up and staying in your pajamas until ten in the morning, drinking eggnog, and watching holiday movies. Then we get older and we have to go to work. If we are lucky, we can squeeze in a couple of days with family doing the above mentioned activities but it's never the same.

This year I'm committed to reclaiming the holiday spirit of relaxation and merriment. I'm sitting by the tree most nights with apple cider in hand and appreciating it's loveliness. Starting Saturday through Christmas I'm committed to rocking the pjs for most of the day. I will wrap in them and bake in them. I may even go to the store in them. Judge if you will. I will make cinnamon buns, fluffy rolls, and more cookies. I will savor it all. 

In taking back the holidays, I'm making all sorts of celebratory food. This French onion braised chicken fit the bill perfectly. I love French onion soup. Crispy baguette and bubbly gruyere all floating in a nest of caramelized onions makes me happy. 

Then I saw this braised French onion chicken on the The Kitchn and I was sold. How had I not thought of this before? This makes French onion soup a more hearty meal. Braising the chicken makes it tender and the caramelized onion accompaniment gives it a richness without being heavy. Broil a little gruyere over the top and you have yourself a meal worthy of a celebration. 

French onion braised chicken
Adapted from The Kitchen, serves 4

2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds yellow onions, sliced 
Pepper and salt to taste 
4 cloves garlic, minced 
2 teaspoons thyme
1 tablespoon rosemary 
2 cups chicken broth 
1 tablespoon balsamic 
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup gruyere, grated 

Melt butter in a medium oven safe saute pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted completely, add the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir. Cook the onion for 35-40 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. 

While the onions are cooking, season your chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat in a medium saute pan. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook 5-6 minutes a side, until the chicken is browned on both sides. Set chicken aside on a plate. 

Using the same pan you cooked the chicken in over medium high heat add the remain 1 cup of broth and stir vigorously. Whisk in balsamic and dijon. Cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Take off the heat.

When the onion begin to caramelize, add garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Cook for 5-10 more minutes. When onion are dark brown in color, add 1 cup of the chicken broth. Turn heat up to high and let simmer for an additional 5 minutes until it has reduced some. Take the onions off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Place the browned chicken over the onions in the saute pan. Pour over balsamic and dijon sauce. Put a lid on the saute pan and put in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and put oven on broil. Sprinkle gruyere over the top and put back in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Keep an eye on the oven. Once you have bubbly cheese pull out the chicken and enjoy! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Garlic roasted broccoli


Snow and I had another meeting of the minds this weekend. In my attempt to enjoy snow, I feel I'm coming up short. It's still cold. It hides ice and takes me out on runs. Snow is not reciprocating my attempts to bond. I suppose all relationships take time.

I did have a little break through with snow this weekend on my run. Up in the foothills it fell in big fat idyllic flakes around me. It seemed kind of nice so I pulled out my earphones to appreciate the serenity. It was oh so quiet. 

What is it about snow that makes the world so quiet? It must be science. Does the snow absorb sound? The more likely theory, the thing that I can embrace about snow, is that people tend to stay cozy at home. Snow makes people start a fire, drink hot chocolate, read a book, watch a movie, or play games. Or at least that is what I like to think. It makes me like snow a little more. I certainly enjoyed it in that quiet moment in the hills. 

When I came home from my run, in my snow appreciation mood, I was committed to roasting something in the oven. I made this roasted broccoli that night and about five time since. It may be the only way I eat broccoli moving forward. That or covered in cheese. Either are viable options. 

I imagine many of you didn't even click on this post. Roasted broccoli. How boring! It's not though. I promise. Side dishes often are neglected. Why must we eat boring vegetables? I say starting today we take a stand. Moving forward we cannot and will not eat dismal broccoli. Roasting broccoli takes no more thought than steaming and it improves the flavor tenfold. It slightly crisps the edges giving the broccoli a toasty sweet flavor. In this version, I add garlic but you could slice lemons over the top and roast it all together or season it with anything under the sun. Very versatile. Very good. 

Garlic roasted broccoli 
Serves 4

2 pounds broccoli 
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon granulated sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Chop each broccoli floret from main stem. Stir garlic and oil together in a medium bowl. Add broccoli to the bowl and toss to coat with oil and garlic. Sprinkle sugar, salt, and pepper over the top and stir. 

Spread broccoli over a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes stirring halfway.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cauliflower pesto pasta

Blake is in the midst of law school finals. Law school, as you might imagine, is not a whole lot of fun. Certainly not for him but also not for me. While he's holed up studying, I have no one to entertain me. And I liked to be entertained. I don't do bored well. I have engaged the dog at length in conversations. She's good company.

I won't leave Blake alone for too long though. The exciting thing about living with me (or possibly annoying) is that I insist on fun. Fun all the time. I pack our schedules tight with activities. Remember that time we tried to learn to play the mandolin? That kind of fun. During finals I have to dial the fun back a little but yesterday after his first test, we went out for a break. A beverage, french fry, burrito kind of break. That's the great thing about food right? A little french fry can go a long way in improving your day. We also took a break earlier in the week to eat pizza, put on Christmas music, and decorate the tree. Pizza...see a theme in how we have fun here?

Food can also bring comfort during stressful study weeks. My comfort food of choice? Pasta. Did you guess it? This pasta is from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and I love it. We make it frequently. The cauliflower gives it a little more texture and heartiness than your ordinary pesto. The sun dried tomatoes and capers are my favorite additions. A little sweet and a little salty. I think this pasta is super satisfying. It comes together in 30 minutes or less. Perfect for busy weeks when time for fun is already sparse.

Cauliflower pesto pasta
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, serves 6

16 ounces of linguine
1 small head of cauliflower
5 sundried tomatoes (not packed in oil), rough chopped
2 tablespoons of capers
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup parmesan plus more for serving
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Save a 1/4 cup of the pasta water before draining.

In a food processor or blender, pulse the cauliflower until its about the size of couscous. Pour the crumbled cauliflower into a large bowl.

 Add the sundried tomatoes, capers, garlic, parmesan, and almonds to the processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarse in texture. Add to the bowl with the cauliflower.

Add pasta to the bowl with the pesto and cauliflower. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and pasta water. Mix together until all the pasta is coated. Serve with a extra parmesan.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Peppermint pattie cookies

Let the cookie baking begin. What better excuse than the holidays? As soon as we finish eating one batch, I'm onto the next. Some batches may overlap. In need of a cookie? Come to our house. I can guarantee that we will have cookies through the New Year. As of right now my cookie baking list looks like this: these peppermint pattie cookies, sugar cookies, soft gingersnap cookies, rugelach pinwheels, peppermint fudge, and peanut butter blossoms. I reserve the right to add other batches as I see fit.

These cookies! I'm pretty excited about these cookies. I'm worried I started off on such a high note all other cookies will disappoint in comparison. I love these cookies! First, the cookie itself is super chocolaty and dense. I could eat them on their own. Then add the smooth and creamy peppermint frosting and you will need nothing else in life. Nothing! I promise. Need some holiday cheer? Look no further. 

Peppermint pattie cookies
Adapted slightly from How Sweet It Is, makes about a dozen cookies 

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (my all time favorite is Valrhona cocoa powder) 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt 
10 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg and 1 egg yolk 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Peppermint pattie frosting 
2 cups powdered sugar 
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened 
3 tablespoons evaporated milk 
1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon peppermint extract 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two baking sheets

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. 

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugars until combined. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Using a spatula stir in the chocolate chips. 

Add dry ingredient to the wet ingredients and use a spatula to combine. 

Roll cookie dough into 2" balls and place on your baking sheets. Cake for 8-10 minutes. You want to bake the cookies until they have just set. Lean towards less bake time than more. You want your cookies to stay fudgy. Let cool completely. 

While the cookies are cooling, make your frosting. In a medium bowl,use an electric mixer beat together powdered sugar, butter, evaporated milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract. Beat until smooth. Spread the frosting over the cooled cookies. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thai pork lettuce wraps + bonus holiday DIY decoration

Yesterday Blake caught me crafting again. I believe I have mentioned this new affinity I have for home decoration and projects. It freaks Blake out a little. It freaks me out a lot. I now know what it means to decoupage. Oh goody.

What was I decoupaging you might ask? More likely you're not asking. Also, who knew decoupaging was a verb? Not me. I made this darling little Christmas tree, which I framed and now hangs on my entry door in place of a wreath. Did I say darling? You bet I did. Darling is a word reserved for crafters. 

The holiday spirit has taken over my life. I intend to be armed at all times with a glue gun for crafting and spatula for cookie making until December 25th. I'm sharing this tree project with you below because it was easy and fun. If you too have always dreamed of decoupage, this is the project for you. 

When you are in the throes of glue sticks and sequins, you need an easy dinner. Enter Thai pork lettuce wraps. Really yummy Thai pork lettuce wraps with a sweet coconut milk, peanut, and chili sauce glaze. 30 minutes and you have yourself a meal. Did I mention it's also fairly healthy? Let's all be honest a healthy dinner never hurts during the holiday season, when my moto becomes a holiday cookie a day keeps the doctor away. 

Thai pork lettuce wraps
Adapted from Seriously Delish, serves 4

1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup sweet Thai chili sauce 
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar (you can sub white wine vinegar) 
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons brown sugar 
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin chops, chopped into bite sized cubes 
1/2 cup carrots, sliced (about 2 medium sized carrots)
1 head butter lettuce
1/4 cup roasted and salted peanuts

In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together coconut milk, sweet Thai chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, peanut butter, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic, and crushed red pepper until combined. Whisk occasionally for 3-5 minutes until sauce slightly thickens and set aside. 

Sprinkle salt and pepper over your pork. In a medium saute pan over high heat, heat olive oil. Add pork and cook until browned on both sides, 4-5 minutes a side. Add carrots halfway through browning the pork. Stir occasionally. Once the pork has browned, stir in 1/4 cup of your glaze. Stir until all the pork and carrots are coated and remove from heat. 

Using the butter lettuce as a cup add your pork and peanuts. Use the extra sauce for dipping. 

Christmas tree frame for doorway 
Tree adapted from Better Home and Gardens

8" by 10" frame 
1 piece of white poster board cut to 8" by 10" 
Pages from an old book 
4 tablespoons white glue (Elmer's)
4 tablespoons water 
Paint brush
Hot glue gun
1 yard of green lace or thick ribbon (whatever you would like to make your tree from)
Sequins, buttons, or anything shiny to decorate your tree

Lay down some newspaper. 

Cut out 5-7 pages of an old novel. Plan your layout on your poster board. You can crisscross the pages any way you like. They will be your background. 

Mix together your white glue and water. Brush the glue mixture over your poster board and carefully lay your book pages over the sticky poster board (to the best of my knowledge this is more or less decoupage). You will need to add more glue for any overlapping pages. 

Lay your lace or ribbon back and forth across the posterboard to make your tree shape. Once you know what you want this to look like hot glue down the ribbon. 

Glue on any sparkling ornaments. Place in your frame and hang on a wreath/frame door hanger (can be found at most craft stores) on your door. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Garlicky Collards and Sausage with Jalapeno Cheddar Grits

This dish stemmed from my desire to cook something veggie packed this week. Blake had to point out that including sausage and cheddar in grits may negate some of the value of all the greens. I just call that a balanced meal. I wouldn't want to shock my body by taking all the cheese out of dinner. It's only a little cheese after all.

Southern food tops my list as an area I want to explore further as a cook. It's also an area I want to explore some time in person. I want to drive across the south and eat po boys, biscuits, grits, and BBQ. Give me all the biscuits! Until then I will settle for experimenting at home, which is half the fun of cooking anyway.

The grits in this dish are everything you want, creamy, hearty, and a little cheesy with some heat. That makes them the perfect accompaniment to the collards swimming in garlic with a bright touch of apple cider vinegar. A pretty easy dish that after about 20 minutes of prep, requires only the occasional stirring. A nice way to get a load of greens in without being too healthy. 

Garlicky collards and sausage with jalapeno cheddar grits
Collards slightly adapted from The Kitchn 

Jalapeno cheddar grits
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 cup grits
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese

Garlicky collards and sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 links of your favorite sausage, pre cooked and cut into 1/2" rounds
2 yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1 teaspoon salt
2 bunches collard greens, cut into ribbons
3 cups chicken broth 
1/2 cup dry sherry (you could sub a dry white wine)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

In a medium sauce pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the jalapeno and cook 3-4 minutes stirring occasionally. Pour in you milk and water and bring to a boil. Once boiling add grits and cook 2 minutes stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and cover with a lid. Let grits cook 40 minutes, stirring every 7 minutes or so. 

Heat tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add sausage and brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes a side. Add onion, garlic, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt to the pan. Cook for about five minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the collard greens and let wilt slightly. Pout in chicken broth, sherry, and vinegar. Stir to combine. Lower heat to low and cover with a lid. Let simmer for 30 minutes.  

Stir cheddar, salt, and pepper into grits right before eating. Serve collards over the grits. If you have leftovers, reheat the grits with a little milk to make them creamy again before eating.